7 Keys for Successful Public Speaking

Here are a few tips you can use to become a better public speaker.

1. Don’t begin preparing for a presentation by building Power Point slides

Begin with note cards or a legal pad. Most corporate presenters build their Power Point presentations and then read the slides verbatim to an audience with a few anecdotes sprinkled in for filler. This practice has damaged public speaking. At best, Power Point has become a crutch for people that are capable of more; at worst, it has become a hammock for the lazy. The core problem with being overly Power Point centric is that you will focus too much on fluff and too little on substance. Remember YOU are the communicator, not the slides. For now… Close Power Point.

2. Preparation

Now if you happen to have the gift of quick wit, winging a speech or presentation on improvisation alone may be adequate. But if you are like me and have no such gift, “winging it” leads to disaster. In toastmasters and formal speech training, I bombed the improv stuff every time. While you can learn improvisation skill with practice, becoming great at improv is unlikely unless you have a natural gift for wit.

In contrast, I believe anybody – including you – can become a great public speaker through good preparation and practice. I’ve found that quality prep and practice are the best antidotes to fear.

3. Write a basic outline including a thesis and at least three main points

This post is not about writing outlines. You can find that info here, here, and here. Outline writing rarely works for essays and blogging, but it works for speaking. I can’t explain why, but that’s my personal experience. I need to just start writing to create a post, but I can’t just start speaking to create a speech.

4. Memorize your outline

Memorize your outline in its entirety. Memorize it so thoroughly that you can repeat it to yourself effortlessly.

5. The secret that works for me

Practice your presentation at least a dozen times. But don’t imagine yourself in front of a large audience.

As you practice, imagine yourself talking to a friend – having a private personal conversation.

When you practice, never try to sound impressive or like an authority. Speak like you are speaking to an old trusted friend. You aren’t trying to impress him. You are just trying to help him understand the material. Focus on your friend, not yourself.

Perform each practice without notes or Power Point slides – drawing your content from your memorized outline and your experience.

Time the speech during your pratices.

6. Do not write out the speech verbatim

If you understand your subject, memorize your outline, and practice the speech – you shouldn’t need it written verbatim. Unless you are a skilled actor, writing it out verbatim may cause you to sound unnatural and awkward. So resist the temptation.

If your outline point reads – My Favorite WordPress Plugins – and you’ve installed and used them (they are your favorites, right?), why should you have your content written out verbatim? Trust yourself – and you’ll have no problem talking about them.

Having it all written down on a notecard or a Power Point slide – just in case you forget something – puts you in danger of reading a list of plugins and sounding plastic. I’d rather sound natural and forget a plugin, than sound plastic and remember them all. Most of the time you will remember them all. But if you don’t, it isn’t a big deal. No one will know.

7. Build your Power Point presentation last

Power Point presentations are required in today’s business environment, so build one and use it, but make it secondary to your personal communication. Build your Power Point presentation to compliment your speech, not your speech to compliment your Power Point presentation. You are the communicator! So communicate.

12 thoughts on “7 Keys for Successful Public Speaking”

  1. Hear hear! The best PowerPoint presentations I’ve seen consisted almost entirely of graphics, so people have a visual to cling to while the speaker talks about the subject. Putting your outline on the slide is definitely a recipe for disaster–people try to pay attention to both, and usually end up not listening to you.

  2. Great Post Steve!

    The last point (#7) is where a lot of presenters fall down. Your audience do not want to read 37 bullet points crammed into one power point slide.

    I’ve found that some short videos and pictures are a great way to compliment your presentation.

    Keep up the great writing Steve!

  3. As a public speaking teacher for a number of years, I have to say you’ve hit pretty much every important nail on the head! I always tell my students that the purpose of the power point is to augment the speach, not the other way around–too often it’s basically a “read this while I read it to you” deal, which is an immediate way to lose your audience. And also about your point of never writing the speech verbatim–I wish every student would follow your advice on that. I always tell my students to memorize their ideas, not their words, because it’s the ideas that are important. Great post!!

  4. Very timely post for me Steve. I am not great on public speaking yet but it is one of my goals to become much better and some of the points you raised will certainly help, thanks.

  5. You should also add that if you aren’t in shape don’t run down the middle isle before you speak–thus being winded for the first 10 minutes of your speech!

    I saw a guy do that once and I laughed all the way through what he had to say.

  6. One other PowerPoint point to be considered even before step #1 above: Think long and hard whether you need to use slides at all. Your audience, message, personal preference, time of day, etc., should all be factored in to your decision. Never, ever default to using PowerPoint during every public speaking endeavor.

    And a bit of a different shading on #6: I certainly agree that it takes much practice to make a full text speech sound natural. Yet it does make sense for some speakers in some situations — for example, an experienced speaker who wants to distribute written comments for the record. Here, as with PowerPoint, never select or reject any particular type of format out of hand.

    Ed Barks
    Author of The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations

  7. Ed,
    You are right. You don’t need a power point. I’ve given several successful presentations without any visuals.

    I haven’t seen anyone do that in several years though.

    You selection of tools should be based on the audience’s needs.

    Thanks much for visiting Ed 🙂

  8. Hi there,
    The best way to learn Public Speaking is to learn from the “Great Speakers” themselves, like Robert Kiyosaki, Brian Tracy, etc.. As a Pre-Sales Technical Consultant, my previous job required me to conduct seminars and roadshows in different countries in the Asia Pacific region.
    I used to think that I’m quite ok as far as presentation is concerned. This is true until I stumbled a site that features all the “Greatest Speakers” in the world, with training at an incredible price!!Today, I’m still watching the video and continue to learn from these world’s “Greatest Speakers” in the delivering of presentation, not to mention about benefiting from the training contents.

    For more information, you may want to visit: http://www.greatest-speakers.com

    I guarantee you will not regret!!

    Cheers ! 🙂

  9. Steve you have many excellent points in your post. I wish I’d run across your blog months ago when this was first posted, but I still wanted to make a comment.

    I’ve seen too many presentations where PowerPoint was a crutch and not a value-added tool like it should be. Ultimately – if your PowerPoint failes in the middle of your speech – you should be able to seamlessly finish your presentation so that hardly anyone notices the failure. You should know your topic that well…!

  10. hello,

    first of,i’de like to say that we owe a huge thank-you to the writer of this helpfull piece of information.second,as a public speaker coach,i highly recammand join Toastmasters so as to master this skill and get red of that feeling of fear of being the focus of the crowd.

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